A PROJECT that gave a voice to the rarely heard, created by a Black Country writer during the Covid lockdowns, is now a book, a touring show and it’s off to the prestigious Hay Festival.

Author AG Smith, from Wordsley, founded the Paperchains project with reading consultant David Kendall to ensure that when stories of the Covid-19 lockdowns are told, experiences that might otherwise go unnoticed are documented.

The project, which has been praised by the Duchess of Cornwall, has resulted in the publication of an anthology of 30 stories of lockdown, from people with experience of prison, homelessness, addiction, and families of people in the armed forces.

The anthology ‘Paperchains: Our Stories of Lockdown’ has been published by Story Machine and the tales have been turned into a live show which will tour prisons this spring and be performed at the Hay Festival of literature and arts in Wales.

Both the anthology and show tell of prisoners spending 23-plus hours a day locked in a cell, breathing the same recycled air - for months, with no visitors.

They tell of addicts just starting to recover and rebuild, only to find themselves back on the edge; and people with nowhere to live, families of service personnel and young people stuck at home without contact from loved ones.

Stourbridge News: AG SmithAG Smith

AG Smith, a writer and prison librarian who founded Paperchains amid the Covid crisis, said: “Paperchains was created out of a need to help people who were struggling during the pandemic.

“Our chosen communities have always had a voice but those voices haven’t always been heard.

“Paperchains has now made them part of history so that future generations can understand what lockdown was like for them.”

The author, whose real name is Alan, is known for his horror stories that are brought to life by Weeping Bank Productions at venues around Stourbridge and the West Midlands with actor Alan Birch, a graphic designer who has designed the Paperchains logo.

Stourbridge News: Paperchains artwork by Alan BirchPaperchains artwork by Alan Birch

Both Alans have provided voiceovers for the animated section of the touring play, along with acting and comedy star Stephen Fry who in 2020 was voted to have the UK’s second favourite voice, behind only Sir David Attenborough.

The live show - created by Story Machine and The Outsiders Project - will tour 15 prisons in March and April. It will also be performed at the National Centre for Writing and the Hay Festival (May 26 to June 5) following its premiere at The Outsiders Project in Boscombe on Saturday March 26.

For more information and tickets visit storymachines.co.uk/paperchains-live-premiere.

The script was written by anthology editor Sam Ruddock with performer Gary Lee. Both are recovering addicts and have worked with playwright Nell Leyshon and theatre director Jo Billingham of The Outsiders Project to create a compelling event that showcases the stories and experiences.

Sam, director of Story Machine, said: “The Covid-19 lockdowns were significant for all of us. But while some of us have support to fall back on, others had a very different experience.

"Reading the submissions for Paperchains was an experience of the very joy of reading: a process of stepping into other shoes and seeing the world through other eyes.

"I am so pleased to have been able to work with talented artists to bring these experiences to life.”